Gin O’Clock – Part Sixty One

Continuing my exploration of Aldi’s take on the ginaissance, the next gin I put in my trolley was Mason’s G12 Gin. Retailing at £24.99 it is at the premium end of the gins on the supermarket’s shelves but the price is still attractive enough to warrant me taking a punt on it.

In 2013 Karl and Cathy Mason established what was then, and may be now for all I know, the first gin distillery in North Yorkshire in the beautiful town of Bedale. Their established brands are Mason’s Yorkshire Dry Gin and two variants, one flavoured with tea and the other with lavender. I tasted the former on New Year’s Eve when I was, shall we say, one over the eight and so I need to a more sober, considered view of their main product.

G12 is a more recent addition to their range and, as far as I can deduce, it is not tied exclusively to Aldi. It takes its name from the fact that it is the product of the twelfth recipe that the distillers tried. They are, after all, a very prosaic lot up in Yorkshire. The blurb suggests that they consider it to be a contemporary gin rather than one from a traditional gin stable. I started to shudder at this point but providing it was juniper led, that would be fine.

Aesthetically, the bottle sticks out like a sore thumb on the shelf, with its vibrant green colour. Think lime and you will get the picture. The white lettering on the front of the bottle tells me that it is a “botanically rich dry gin with bursts of citrus fruit and hints of fresh Mediterranean herbs.” The Mason’s logo is towards the bottom and the Yorkshire rose is embossed in the glass towards the neck.

The stopper, artificial cork, fits tightly to the neck of the bottle and makes a satisfying plopping noise when it is removed. I do like a good plop. The aroma released is complex and pleasing, with the piny smell of juniper to the fore before the more effervescent lime comes into play. There is a distinct freshness to the smell which presumably comes from the herbs.

To the taste the first hit is from the juniper and that stays in the mouth before it is joined by zesty citrus notes and a little sharpness. Then the citrus elements seem to subside and a more refreshing, herbal taste can be detected. The aftertaste is warm and peppery and lingers. With a mixer the gin seemed to louche and for me it was not as smooth or balanced as I had expected. It seems to operate in distinct phases rather than being one complete complex taste. But, pleasingly for a contemporary style gin, it has a solid and detectable juniper base.

I did try to detect precisely what was in the mix and my best guess is; juniper, coriander, basil, lemon and lime peels, cinnamon and black pepper. There may be more botanicals in the mix, the distillers are rather coy on that point, but they do admit to sweet basil.

For me, this is a gin for a warm summer evening. It is pleasant, refreshing and at the right time and place could be moreish. A cold February day in England, when I first sampled it, is probably not the ideal time to try it.

Until the next time, cheers!

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Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Nine

Am I beginning to detect a bit of a kick-back in what hitherto seemed to be the unstoppable wave of the ginaissance?

We have gone through phases of gins boasting many weird and wonderful mixes of botanicals, often losing that unmistakable flavour of the juniper berry along the way, selected as much to give the marketing lads and lasses a good story to spin as to enhance the flavour. Then we have had that godawful trend of 2018, the flavoured gin craze. And then there is the presumption that because a few herbs have been thrown together and poured into an attractive bottle, the gin can justify a price tag well in excess of £30.

Perhaps it is time to have a rethink and go back to first principles. What gin drinkers want, OK this one at least, is a well-made, well-balanced gin, preferably where juniper is to the fore or at least has a fighting chance of making its presence felt, attractively packaged and reasonably priced.

Like them or hate them, budget supermarkets are here to stay and Aldi, at least, are trying to cut through much of the bullshit that seems to surround the ginaissance and provide a range of no-nonsense, sensibly priced gins which might appeal to the more adventurous toper of the nation’s favourite tipple. On my last trip to our local store, I usually get dragged there kicking and screaming so I need to find some solace somewhere, I filled my trolley with four gins that piqued my interest and all of which were priced under £20.

The first is Boyle’s Gin, an Irish gin produced exclusively for the supermarket by the Blackwater Distillery, based in Waterford. It won, in a blind tasting competition, a gold medal in the 2018 The Gin Masters competition. It comes in a stumpy glass jar, rather like the ones you would see on the shelves of a chemist, with a light brown label and copper plate writing in a darker brown ink. My bottle informed me that it was from batch 01.16 and recipe 32a was used. Quite what that means is anybody’s guess.

It takes its name from the chemist, Robert Boyle, perhaps Waterford’s most famous son. The label bears an image of the equipment he used to develop his law which, if I recall my schoolboy science, demonstrated that in a constant temperature the volume and pressure of a gas are inversely proportionate. Or was it drinking gin and sobriety? I can’t remember.

The gin has that tried and tested base provided by juniper, coriander and angelica. Top notes are provided by blackcurrants from Wexford, apples from Cork and elderflower from Waterford. My senses also tell me that there is a citrus element in the mix too – a nice blend of botanicals, I must say.

On removing the artificial cork stopper, the first smell to hit me was the reassuring one of juniper and then hints of citrus and apple. The aroma indicated that the hooch would be well-balance with juniper to the fore. This impression was confirmed when I took my first sip, juniper to the fore, then citrus followed by apple before the other fruits came into play. It seemed incredibly smooth, finishing off with a warm aftertaste. It reminded vaguely of William’s Great British Extra Dry Gin, and none the worse for that.

A fighting weight of 40% ABV means that it will not blow your socks off and at a penny shy of a score it is not too heavy on the pocket. It is well worth a try.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Eight

Is it cause or effect? The ginaissance has firmly established gin as the trendy drink du jour. More people are drinking it and more distillers and brands are entering the market. Is this fuelling the demand or simply a market-led response? Who knows? But what is becoming crystal clear is that gin makers are having to become ever more innovative and resourceful to carve out even a small space in the gin market.

If there was a prize for the most beautiful and impressively designed gin bottle, and for all I know there may well be one, Generous Gin would be up there amongst the leading contenders. It is a stunning, white vase-shaped bottle covered with the images of botanicals in black – the organic version of the gin uses green. In the centre of the front of a bottle is a black label with white script, informing the prospective purchaser that it is called Generous Gin and that it is “delightfully fresh and aromatic.” The label at the rear gives more information about the product.

Generous is a French gin which, rather like G-Vine Floraisson, comes from the Cognac region, and bottled by Odevie SAS, who are to be found in La Rochefoucauld. The bottle proudly proclaims its French provenance. According to the manufacturers, it is their attempt to create a “simple gin” which highlights the “best of what French tradition can offer: great natural ingredients, combined with a high precision of distillation in small pot-stills” and one which can give “the best Gin and Tonic.” Their aim, they state, is to produce “a smooth and aromatic gin which combines fruity, floral and spicy scents with an extraordinary freshness.” No lack of ambition there, then.

From what I can establish, there are six botanicals which make up the gin – juniper, citrus, red pepper, jasmine and elder flower – some of which are macerated and others distilled. The process is not quite clear but then it’s the product rather than the process that we should concern ourselves with.

The bottle is a delight to touch and feel and opening the screwcap top unleashes a heady aroma of pine, citrus and flowers, quite delightful and somewhat intoxicating. If you get the impression that this is going to be a floral gin with the dial set at eleven, you would not be wrong when you take your first sip. The spirit, wonderfully crystal clear, has a very fresh taste to it with floral elements and spices to the fore. The juniper takes very much a backseat in this gin. The aftertaste is clean, fresh with a lingering sensation of dryness and at 44% ABV it packs a punch.

I could imagine myself sitting in a shady bower, seeking refuge from the harsh sun, breathing in the aromas and fragrances of the flowers which surround me, sipping a glass of Generous. The match between the floral notes of the gin and my surroundings would be perfect. But for everyday drinking, I miss the juniper lead and I found that if you were not careful with the mixer you used, you could seriously destabilise the fragile balance of the spirit. A very neutral tonic seems to work best for me, at least.

If you like a floral led gin, then this is definitely one to explore. For me, it will certainly feature on my summer gin-drinking menu. For the meantime the bottle will take pride of place on my gin shelf, standing like a Ming vase, until the sun starts to shine.

Until the next time, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Seven

 

Whether you like it or not, 2018 was the year of flavoured gins, jostling for attention in the crowded marketplace created by the ginaissance. For me, though, it seems nothing more than a fad, one unlikely to stand the test of time. I have commented more than once that what really floats my boat is a gin that is firmly in the London Dry Gin camp, juniper led and uncomplicated, without too many botanicals jostling for attention.

One gin that firmly ticks all my requirements is the rather delicious and moreish Foxdenton 48 London Dry Gin, a welcome gift from Santa. It comes in a clear, rather squat, cylindrical bottle with a large, beige-coloured label with silver and black script. The bottom part of the label has a tableau of the botanicals that make up the mix and at the top a line drawing of Foxdenton Hall. There is a potted history of the estate on the left-hand side of the label, as you look at the bottle. The neck is covered in black foil with the Foxdenton logo, a bull and crown, embossed in silver. It oozes class and elegance.

Disappointingly, the cork stopper is artificial, you can’t have everything, I suppose, but any momentary disappointment is soon dissipated by the satisfying sound that the cork makes when removed. The aroma released is heavily juniper led, the classic gin smell, with more than a hint of spice. To the taste it is thick and creamy with the juniper making way, but still remaining in situ, for the coriander and a citrusy after note, introducing a refreshing element to what might otherwise have been a little spice heavy. The aftertaste, which is predominantly juniper, lingers and invites you to sample some more.

At 48% ABV it is at the heavy end of the gin spectrum but you wouldn’t guess it when drinking the spirit. There are just six botanicals in the mix, less is certainly more in this case – juniper berries, orris root, coriander seeds, angelica root, lemon peel and lime flower oil. The result is a smooth, rich, well-balanced gin, almost luxurious to the taste. In my book it is just what a gin should be.

Inevitably, there is a story behind the gin. The current owner of the Foxdenton Estate Company, Nicholas Radclyffe started to turn his hand at making fruit liqueurs for his shooting party guests. His concoctions went down well and so he set about producing them, on a relatively small scale. Each of his liqueurs used gin as a base and were made using traditional recipes.

It was perhaps no surprise that Radclyffe should turn his attention to the spirit that underpinned his liqueurs, gin. In collaboration with business partner, John Simpson, and the head of Thames Distillers, Charles Maxwell, whose family has been producing gin since 1700, he set about creating a new gin. After six months of experimenting they produced a gin that met their exacting standards and in July 2009 it was launched on the world. Naturally, it forms the base for their liqueurs, of which I have sampled the delicious Damson.

If you are looking to buy only one gin this year, the superb Foxdenton should be at the top of your list.

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Six

Well, Father Christmas didn’t disappoint me on the gin stakes. The first bottle I unwrapped was a rather splendid affair, a rather squat, hexagonal shaped bottle, whose label, printed on Japanese washi paper, told me that it was Roku Gin.

Marketing is everything, at least when it comes to gin in order to get an edge in the crowded market spawned by the ginaissance. Roku is Japanese for six and the spirit uses six botanicals which are representative of the Land of the Rising Sun. But the name is a tad misleading as there are another eight botanicals which go into the mix. Perhaps it should be called Ju Yon, not as catchy perhaps, but more representative of what is actually in the drink.

The label has an elegant and distinctive design featuring the number six in Kanji script. The hexagon bottle is rather sensual to the touch, it oozes elegance and class, and each facet of the bottle features one of the traditional Japanese botanicals.

What might be described as the rhythm section of the gin is made up of eight botanicals which this writer, at least, is delighted to find in the mix – the old favourites, juniper, coriander seed, angelica root and seed, cardamom, cinnamon, bitter orange and lemon peel. The base spirit is neutral grain-based, rather than anything fancy like sake.

And now to the Japanese botanicals.

I suppose most occidentals’ stereotypical view of Japan is a land of cherry blossom and this gin does nothing to recalibrate conceptions. Roku takes the flower and the leaf of the Sakura, that beautiful and rather delicate ornamental cherry which are a delight to even Western gardens. They bloom in late winter and early spring and represent renewal, rebirth, the start of another cycle of life.

Another traditional image of Japan is a land of elaborate tea ceremonies and two forms of green tea are added to the hooch. We have sencha which means new tea and, as its name suggests, is the first crop of the year and considered to be the most tasty. It is supposed to have health-giving properties. We will see. The other variant of green tea in the mix is gyokuro which appears later in the year and is grown under shade rather than the full sun.

The next flavour of the Orient added to the mix is Sansho pepper. They consist of little green, unripened pods from the Japanese prickly ash and have a citrus taste with a bit of a fierce peppery kick. To complete the sextet we have yuzu peel form, unsurprisingly, a fruit called yuzu which is a cross between a grapefruit and a mandarin. The peel is used particularly in miso soup.

So, what is it like?

The scewcap top releases an exotic aroma infused with cherry and green tea. To the taste the spirit is rich and oily, it louched when I added tonic, with the traditional gin notes soon giving way, briefly, to the cherry blossom, before the tea with its tannic overtones takes over. It becomes quite bitter and peppery with hints of citrus in the aftertaste.

At 43% ABV, the Roku for the Japanese domestic market weighs in at 47%, it struck me as an elegant, well-balanced and interesting gin, one to savour and a welcome addition to my groaning gin shelf. Suntory, who launched the gin internationally in 2017, have come up with a winner here.

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Five

Sitting here writing this post, summer seems so far away. It is the time of year that TOWT and I flee cold, misty, and frosty Blighty for warmer climes for a bit of winter sun.

There is a school of thought that gin is a summer drink, best enjoyed sitting outside when the sun is setting. That may be so and there are certain gins, generally with more of a floral overload, that seem best suited for quaffing al fresco but for the true aficionado gin is surely an all around the year drink. Such is the wide variety of the gins available, courtesy of the ginaissance, that it is possible to find one whose attributes either fit in perfectly with the prevailing weather conditions – perhaps one with a high spice content for those winter evenings – or help you recapture the mood of a balmy summer evening.

I have already commented that one of the trends in the gin world in 2018 is the production of coloured and flavoured gins. Pink, particularly strawberry, and orange seem very much on trend this year and you can tell something is stirring in the undergrowth when one of the undoubted big boys join in.

For me, Tanqueray, owned by Diageo, can do nothing wrong. Their No 10 is to die for and their London Dry Gin is always a reliable companion. I always ensure that I have one or the other (or both) on my shelf for those times when I want to return to the arms of a faithful companion. In April 2018 they added another to their range, Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla.

It comes in the familiar, Tanqueray-shaped bottle, fluted with an indentation near the neck in which is the Tanqueray seal. But instead of bottle-green the glass is clear, the better to show off the coloured spirit, which looks a bit like Lucozade. The label is colourful featuring segments of oranges and the legend advises that it is made with bittersweet Seville oranges.

On opening the screwcap, the aroma is a heady mix of oranges and juniper and despite my scepticism about flavoured gins, I found it inviting. To the taste it was not as sickly as I had anticipated, the zesty taste of the oranges complemented by the traditional botanicals of Tanqueray’s London Dry Gin. With an ABV of 41.3% it makes for a very satisfying, smooth drink, fruity and full of flavour, leaving a nice sensation of orange and spice as an aftertaste.

The inspiration for this gin, apart from jumping on a bandwagon, is apparently a recipe concocted by Charles Tanqueray himself whilst he was traipsing around the orange groves of Spain. The cynic in me thinks that it is London Dry Gin with oranges added but I’m sure there is more to it than that.

If flavoured gins are your bag, then you can do no worse than go for the one produced by one of the acknowledged market leaders. Did it transport me to the sun-soaked orange groves of Spain? I’m not sure. I will have to drink a bit more of it to be able to give you a definitive answer.

There will be no more gin reviews until Father Christmas has been. So, until 2019, cheers!

Gin O’Clock – Part Fifty Four

There must be some consolations to be had for pushing a rather battered trolley around the grubby aisles of an Aldi supermarket. Well, on my last trip to our local outlet, I found one at least. They are bringing their fetching approach of stack them untidily, sell ‘em cheap to the ginaissance and have a rather intriguing selection of gins available.

The one that particularly caught my eye was a rather squat, rectangular-shaped bottle with a rather unobtrusive, if not apologetic, label. Picking it up, I saw that it was Beckett’s London Dry Gin, the brain child of the eponymous Neil Beckett and which has been around since 2014. It is distilled at Kingston Distillers. The label, white with a pale green surround of branches and juniper berries, was unusually informative, always a bonus I find when browsing through gins. Intrigued by the write-up in Ginventory, I decided to give it a go and what a find it was.

As often is the case with gins, there is a back story to the gin, usually a desperate attempt to find that ever elusive marketing edge. But at least with Beckett’s there is a conservationist angle, if that is your bag. The junipers are hand-picked from Box Hill in the rolling Surrey Downs. They claim, and I have no reason to doubt them, that it is the only the gin, to date, that uses juniper grown and picked in England. The cynic in me says that there is usually a very good reason something is not used but the proof of the botanical is in the drinking.

What is laudable about using English juniper is that it is an attempt to reverse the lamentable decline in the fortunes of the berry here in Blighty. A combination of poor seed quality, disease and, until recently, the decline in interest in gin has meant that juniper has almost been eradicated from large parts of the country. As a quid pro quo for using the junipers, Beckett’s gin is being used as a flagship for the juniper conservation effort. If more distillers follow Beckett’s lead, then there may be a chance that juniper will re-establish itself here.

Along with the juniper, five other botanicals are added to the neutral grain spirit to produce the hooch – mint grown in Kingston upon Thames, lime and coriander from Morocco, orris root from Italy, and orange peel from Spain. You will probably have gathered by now, if you read these posts on a regular basis, that I am a fan of relatively simple gins using a small number of botanicals which allow the juniper to take the lead. This gin certainly ticks that box.

The label informed me that it was from Batch no LDG17 and was bottle number 5018. Come in No 5018, your time is up. Removing the grey foil from the neck of the bottle and the artificial stopper, the aroma that greeted me was one heavily influenced by juniper with hints of citrus and, perhaps, mint. To the taste it presented as a well-balanced gin with the juniper blending well with the citrus elements and the mint giving it a rather bittersweet taste and a long, cool, refreshing aftertaste.

It made for a very satisfying drink and at 40% ABV is one that is going to encourage you to have another one.

Until the next time, cheers!